Stories worth watching #4: The Voyage of Sumeet and Chetna

This story literally came flying into my inbox the other day, the subject merely indicating: “British Airways is also doing personal stories now”. The sender surely seemed to know how to catch my attention … and there was no comment as to whether BA’s attempt was successful, in the sense of good-story-successful, not youtube-clicks-successful. She left that to me to find out …

Overcoming an instinctive cerebral reflex of rejection by the notion that this is probably just another ad in sheep’s (or cheap) clothing – and henceforth the source of evil that continues to insult my intelligence by insinuating authenticity while actually shouting out “CLICK HERE AND BUY ME, STUPID!” –, I followed the link anyway. And I was rewarded; in one way, not in every.

OK, there’s a decent slice from the cheesy cake mixed into this film, but: a really good story it is. And if it’s a well-told story, I do admit to being susceptible to some nice, unpatronizing cheesiness every now and again, that lets me escape from our technocratic, data- and perfomance-driven world … hmmm, maybe I’ll start a list of the best-told and produced stories that made me cry and were not good despite, but because?.

I was glad that nobody was watching when my eyes premiered this film in the office …😉

What’s so good about this story?

  1. That it makes me experience the “like me” effect. Even though it’s plotted in a world completely foreign to my own. Even though the heroes’ sufferings are (on the outside) something I will (probably and hopefully) never be exposed to myself, but (on the inside) something that’s as close to my heart as Romeo and Juliet, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, or László de Almásy and Katherine Clifton.
  2. That it manages to take the seemingly very specific story of an organized, yet later love-match-to-be marriage and its challenges in modern Indian life to the broader sphere of She and He. Of Love and Sacrifice. Of Desire and Deprivation. Of Longing and Letting Go. And so on. Universal themes of togetherness and separation and all the shades of grey in-between. It doesn’t matter, whether our two heroes are Indian, American, German, Chinese or African: These kinds of experiences are all the same, all over the world. We know them, and we feel them when we see them – and feel even more when we experience them as true (and I haven’t found any lead anywhere yet that this story is scripted or fake).
  3. That it clearly follows the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change in a way that is not totally surprising, granted, but despite its predictability it is convincing and true to its own inner truth. Even though I had a pretty good feeling for how the story will end, I still didn’t want to miss the satisfaction of the closure living up to my expectations. And it did.

Still … Why is this story and especially the overall British Airways campaign behind that story so very far from perfect?

  1. First of all: the music. It begins OK, adequately subtle as the story unfolds, and the hero introduces himself. But after a minute already, the unwelcome feeling creeps over me that a soundscape is about to invade my ear conch, and oh how I hate that. At minute 2:45 it almost becomes unbearable, this crescendo of paternalism, acoustically giving me the order what to feel in a couple of seconds. Again, how I hate that. Although I also hate it when it works, when my heart answers through my lacrimal glands while my brain is saying “No! Don’t! They’re just manipulating you!”.
  2. The documentary start of the film (if you ignore the fast-motion sequences, which you definitely should, they’re so eighties and boring!) maybe does not have the intention of fooling me, but it does. Because in the end it turns out to be an attempt to imitate Hollywood. Especially after minute 3:30, this becomes all too evident: slow motion, seemingly staged or at least retook scenes, too much forced effort on an image-text match. At the end and with Sumeet’s fit-to-campaign-and-landing-page-title slogan “Sometimes we have to go really far to get close”, this becomes even blunter – and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I hate being fooled.
  3. Speaking about the campaign (the above arguments are a little prone to taste, but the following is a fact): It’s a laudable one, with a nice and true core message, showing the authentic benefits of a brand and its actions for its recipients (or more abstractly: target audience). This campaign goal surely is reached (emotionally, that is, I have no knowledge of the quantitative results apart from 1.8m YouTube views to date). But, in the end, it turns out to be just another poor attempt of deviation, pretending to want one thing (in this case: make people happy and tell a good story), when in the end it’s ever so obviously about another thing (in this case: make people book flights with BA, and not just somewhere down the Brand and Sales Funnel, that would be OK, and expected, and accepted, but RIGHT NOW, STUPID! No subtleness, no intelligent weaving of one story into a greater theme or idea.). When I enter ba.com/getcloser, I don’t (as I would have hoped for) get more content of the kind I have just seen, that is other example stories of BA’s impact on human happiness, not even a “more to come” message in case this is the first episode of a planned series. Nope, nuthin. Instead, a simple, plain, in my eyes insultingly profane flight booking page as you actually would expect at BA.com, not on its apparently os so human “get closer” campaign landing page. And then I even find out, how our happy heroes are exploited for a whole bunch of other online marketing measures such as Facebook quiz asking me (as a story seeker!) how close I am to whomever. I can even win a flight to get even closer. Can it get more right in the face? Phew. And URGH.

A shame. An insult, And a wasted chance of a sustainably credible campaign that started off so promising – with a good story.

6 thoughts on “Stories worth watching #4: The Voyage of Sumeet and Chetna

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